June 18, 2019 | 72° F

Rutgers students create video, petition for Ellen DeGeneres to speak at commencement

Photo by Phillip Shvartsman |

Students collaborated on a petition and video, asking Ellen DeGeneres to speak at the 2017 graduation ceremony. In December, Barchi told The Daily Targum that the University's committee had already decided on a commencement speaker. 

Rutgers students wrapped up a promotional video shoot Saturday as part of a campaign for Ellen DeGeneres to speak at the University's graduation commencement. 

The final scene involved students gathering outside the Buccleuch Park Museum, adjacent to the College Avenue campus, spelling out  "Ellen" with their bodies, said Kayla Brantley, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. 

Students stood on top of the duct tape letters, while Phillip Shvartsman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, shot the scene with a drone.

Brantley organized the rally and the campaign to get DeGeneres to speak at Rutgers with the help of her friends. In the campaign's first stage, she created a Facebook page and a petition that about has 1,000 student signatures.

Despite this success, she said she expected the completed video to be when the campaign "really took off."

"Videos go viral," Brantley said. "Ellen is always bringing people on her show (for them) ... so the whole point of this is to get her attention, so I think a video will be perfect for that."

With the success of past video and petition campaigns at Rutgers for former President Barack Obama and William Sanford Nye, popularly known as "Bill Nye the Science Guy," to come for commencement, she thinks it is possible to convince DeGeneres to come, too, Brantley said.

The students prepared for the event with hot chocolate, a speaker blasting BeyoncĂ© and a box of t-shirts with Ellen DeGeneres's face on them.

After, students were invited to write reasons why they want DeGeneres to speak at commencement on a dry-erase board. Photos of the finished board were shared on the "Ellen for Rutgers Commencement 2017" Facebook page.

Shvartsman said there are a group of seniors from different organizations throughout Rutgers who helped create the video, many of them being friends of Brantley and himself. 

Kiera Del Vecchio, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the talk show host would be the perfect person to speak at the commencement ceremony.

"We love Ellen because she is so inclusive and giving ... and with Rutgers being such a diverse place, it's really nice to see someone who helps out so many different types of groups and different communities, and I think she's the perfect person to come here and inspire people," she said.

Lidia De Los Santos, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, also came out to the rally to support DeGeneres for commencement.

De Los Santos and Del Vecchio were both studying abroad with Brantley when they collectively decided they wanted Degeneres to speak at their graduation.

"We started thinking about who could be better than (Barack Obama), and Ellen DeGeneres came to our mind," Brantley said. 

She said Degeneres is the perfect choice for a commencement speaker because of her humanitarianism, charity work and overall message of human kindness, Brantley said. 

"Whether you're conservative or whether you're a liberal, I think (Ellen would) be perfect to relay that message to everybody at graduation," Brantley said.

Among the students featured in the video are members of sororities, fraternities, athletic teams and the nursing program.

The video itself is going to sound like a Rutgers unified voice asking for DeGeneres to speak at commencement, with different people from different organizations throughout Rutgers, Shvartsman said.

Shvartsman said the experience of creating a video was rewarding and he believes DeGeneres' message will resonate regardless.

"Whether (Ellen) speaks, which I'm pretty sure she will, I think it's been ... a good experience to create a video and to be able to have people work together," Shvartsman said.

In an interview with The Daily Targum in December, University President Robert Barchi said Rutgers has adopted a new process for selecting commencement speakers, which utilizes a designated committee.

"There is already a commencement speaker for 2017, but we cannot identify that person," Barchi said. "We can't tell you about that, but we're not looking for at candidates for 2018, so we're a year, a year-and-a-half ahead."

Abigail Lyon is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and theater arts. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. For more, follow her on Twitter @abily0n.

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